States get $200 million funding boost to fight infectious diseases
State public health laboratories are slated to receive more than $200 million in federal funds to help strengthen their efforts to fight infectious disease threats.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday all 50 state health departments as well as local health agencies in several large metropolitan areas including Chicago and New York will receive some of the money under the agency's Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases Cooperative Agreement program.
Similar awards have been made in previous years to supplement state laboratory budgets. This year's awards include $77 million specifically to help state health departments fight antibiotic-resistant pathogen threats found in foodborne infections and acquired within healthcare facilities.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities have been a top focus of health officials in recent years for combating antimicrobial resistance since they are a major spot for acquiring infections. About one in 25 hospital patients acquires at least one healthcare-associated infection on any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has estimated more than 23,000 people in the U.S. die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year.
A key factor in the growing prevalence of antimicrobial-resistant infections has been the continued overuse of antibiotics, which health officials say have become increasingly ineffective against some of the worst pathogens.
The new funding will help expand the Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network, which was established in 2016 as the country's first nationwide effort to support state lab capacity to track and respond to antimicrobial-resistant disease threats.
"We're in a much better position to provide a coordinated response," said Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. "We're just on the path to build the systems necessary to report these things more in real-time than we previously were."
Some of the activities the funding will be used to support include building a new national laboratory designed to more quickly identify emerging outbreaks of drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, which has become one of world's leading causes of infectious disease death killing more than 1.8 million worldwide each year.
Money will be used to help state labs enhance their ability to monitor drug-resistance strains of gonorrhea. More than 800,000 gonorrhea infections occur each year, with the CDC estimating that a quarter of those cases involved infections that are resistant to at least one antibiotic.
A portion of the antimicrobial resistance funding will go toward building up PulseNet, the nation's laboratory network to detect foodborne illness outbreaks. The bulk of the award will be administered through the CDC's Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases Cooperative Agreement program, which provides funding to public health laboratories around the country to quickly respond to emerging infectious disease threats.
Infectious disease experts called the award "fantastic", saying any increase in federal funding will go a long way toward strengthening the country's network of state and local public health laboratories.
"The funding is really going to do terrific things for advancing laboratory science and improving our ability to be responsive when there are outbreaks of particularly alarming diseases," said Peter Kyriacopoulos, senior director of public policy at the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
Nearly half of the yearly funding for the ELC program, about $40 million, comes from the CDC's Prevention and Public Health Fund created through the Affordable Care Act. That money in particular is an important source, according to Kyriacopoulos, because it allows for a more flexible use of the funding to support quick responses to sudden threats.
Flexible funding obtained from the Prevention Fund aided state laboratories to maintain their ability to rapidly test samples for Zika virus during the nine months last year before Congress finally approved emergency appropriations to combat the disease.
With last week's failed effort by Senate Republicans to repeal the ACA, and with it the Prevention and Public Health Fund, Kyriacopoulos was hopeful lawmakers commit to keeping ELC's flexible funding in place beyond what takes place with either the ACA or the Fund.
"The CDC does not have $40 million dollars sitting around someplace else that they can just pick up and drop in to this account," Kyriacopoulos said.
An edited version of this story can also be found in Modern Healthcare's Aug. 7 print edition.
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